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Feast of Words celebrates Emory authors

Emory University faculty wrote or edited 121 books in 2015 — a 20 percent increase from the year before — on topics ranging from literature and philosophy to business and medicine.

To celebrate their achievements, the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence hosted the annual Feast of Words on Feb. 1 at the Emory Barnes & Noble Bookstore. The popular event kicked off Founders Week, Emory's midwinter academic festival, which commemorates the first official meeting of the founders of Emory College on Feb. 6, 1837 — two months after the state of Georgia formally granted a charter to establish the college.

"Emory is very clear: We have a mission statement that says we create, preserve, teach and apply knowledge in the service of humanity," Emory President James Wagner said before leading attendees in a toast to this year's authors. "The Feast of Words is a direct — no proxy required — illustration that Emory is doing its job and that you are doing your jobs."

Before introducing Wagner for the toast, Provost Claire Sterk praised the Feast of Words as "an occasion to really celebrate the intellectual community that we have."

"I think this is amazing: In an era where we talk about university presses having fewer resources to sustain their publishing, where academic publishing overall seems to be changing, and where we are moving to very different ways of getting our knowledge out, here we have gone up 20 percent in terms of the number of books the Emory faculty has put forth."

The 121 books published this year come from 105 faculty authors or editors, including 61 from Emory College of Arts and Sciences, 26 from the School of Medicine, 20 from Emory Law, 12 from Candler School of Theology, three from Oxford College, two each from Goizueta Business School and Rollins School of Public Health, and one from Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing.

Emeriti faculty are included on the list 11 times, while the year's tally also includes one each from the Center for Ethics and the Center for Digital Scholarship. Fifteen members of the University faculty wrote or edited multiple titles in 2015.

Below is a sample of the diverse books written or edited by Emory faculty this year. For a full list of Emory University books published in 2015, visit here.

"Rebranding Islam"

For someone who, when he began his MA in anthropology, “could barely place Indonesia on a map,” James Bourk Hoesterey has come a long way with the publication of "Rebranding Islam: Piety, Prosperity, and a Self-Help Guru." Now assistant professor of religion, Hoesterey spent two years shadowing the charismatic television preacher known to a nation of admirers as Aa Gym.

With a self-help message of “Manajemen Qolbu” (“Managing the Heart”), Gym transformed himself from a young man without formal religious education into a religious celebrity, national icon and Islamic brand. Viewers by the millions watched his weekly television shows, hundreds of thousands made pilgrimages to his Islamic school, and politicians of all stripes sought photo-ops during campaign season.

The book asks important questions about shifts within the religious culture of Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, including: Does Gym’s popularity signal a new kind of religious authority? In addition, what does the rise of self-help gurus say about the anxieties and aspirations of middle-class Muslims in Indonesia?

When Gym’s devoted public discovered that he embraced polygamy — legal in Indonesia — by taking a second wife, it all came crashing down. Women shredded his picture, the country’s president ordered a review of marriage law, and Gym’s business empire dissolved.

This is experiential ethnography of a most interesting sort. Aa Jim, as Hoesterey is known, becomes “part of the [Gym] road show.” In the end, he concludes, religious figures who follow will not equal Gym’s celebrity because it was achieved “during the uncertain, yet hopeful, dawn of post-authoritarian Indonesia.”

"Beastly Morality"

Surely when praise from Jane Goodall — the United Nations Messenger of Peace —adorns your book’s back cover, you have done something right. The book is "Beastly Morality: Animals as Ethical Agents," and the editor is Jonathan Crane, Raymond F. Schinazi Scholar in Bioethics and Jewish Thought at the Center for Ethics. 

The volume has sparked a paradigm shift in animal studies by envisioning nonhuman animals as distinct moral agents. Crane points out that “animal welfare, while revolutionary in many aspects, nonetheless maintains its ultimate gaze on the human animal, not the nonhuman animal.”

Drawing on ethics, religion, philosophy, law, ethology and cognitive science, the contributors prove that nonhuman animals possess complex reasoning capacities, empathic sociality, and dynamic and enduring self-conceptions. Says Celia Deane-Drummond, theology professor and director of the Center for Theology, Science, and Human Flourishing at the University of Notre Dame, “This book is radical in the very best sense of the word, serious scholarship combined with far-reaching ethical implications.”

"Original Sacred Harp"

For the uninitiated, a National Public Radio feature described the paradox of Sacred Harp singing this way: “There’s no harp in Sacred Harp singing — no instruments at all. Just the power of voice, in four-part harmony. The origin of the music goes back centuries — first in England, then in colonial New England, then the music migrated south, where it took root.”

Jesse Karlsberg, postdoctoral fellow in digital humanities publishing at the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS), is the prime mover behind "Original Sacred Harp: Centennial Edition." It is a commemorative, facsimile, reprint edition of the 1911 edition of "Original Sacred Harp," which helped propel Sacred Harp music into the 20th century and affected its practice up to the present. Karlsberg has written an engaging new introduction for the volume that speaks to the book’s publication history, social context and reception.

This meticulously digitized and restored copy represents a collaboration between Pitts Theology Library, ECDS, Woodruff Library, and the Sacred Harp Publishing Company.

Karlsberg chose to edit a facsimile reprint rather than re-typeset because, as he says, the original's “quirks, typographical errors, and uneven print quality . . . speak to its historical circumstances.” This handsome volume coming back into circulation also marks the beginning of Sounding Spirit, a more sustained effort to publish companion digital annotated and print facsimile editions of a range of significant out-of-print vernacular sacred American music texts.

The book was launched at the annual Emory Sacred Harp event, which last year coincided with a meeting at Emory of the Society for Christian Scholarship in Music. This year's Sacred Harp Sing is set for Saturday, Feb. 13, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Cannon Chapel; the event is free and open to the public.

"Rethinking Thought"

“Nothing sparks more thought about thought than encountering a mind different from one’s own,” writes Laura Otis in "Rethinking Thought: Inside the Minds of Creative Scientists and Artists." From the opening lines of this unique study, Otis puts the limitations of her own mind on full, sometimes comic, view.

Otis is not a visual thinker. Every time she turns the key in her front-door lock, she wiggles it both ways. If she was in a space five minutes before and called upon to describe it, she can’t.

Poor Otis? Hardly. With an MA in neuroscience and a PhD in comparative literature, this former MacArthur fellow—now professor of English—has a gem of a mind. The message of her book is that minds must be able to present their strengths variously.

Until recently, scientists’ search for similarities guided studies of the human brain. Examining “individual quirks,” Otis says, “has been a luxury that they cannot yet afford.”

Otis builds a fascinating narrative around, as she calls them, “34 different heads.” They include those who work in science or literature or (like Otis) some combination thereof. Some of those she interviewed are well known to the Emory community: Mark Bauerlein, Natasha Trethewey and Salman Rushdie.

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